I'd like to share the journey that brought me to Jesus. I'm going to make this a series of small posts so that I can more deeply reflect on this experience for myself, and I hope you can enjoy the ride with me.
I usually start my story with my declaration, sometime around the age of 7, that I did not believe in God. But this conclusion was reached, in part, because of the spiritual heritage of those who came before me. My parents never shared many details of their childhoods, but I intuited enough to understand that it was pretty strict, rules-based, and religion-focused. My father's parents are Greek Orthodox, fresh from Greece, and my mother's parents are Irish-Italian Catholics. While those denominations have a fair share of differences, the practical outworking was similar: one of law, fear, and 'doing the right thing'. Religion was more about belonging to an ethnic community that did good works rather than experiencing a personal relationship with God.
My father left his home and his religion to marry my mom (his parents did not attend their wedding, nor his funeral almost 8 years ago). They never let him - or my mom, or any of us grandkids - forget this abomination. Every single memory I have of my paternal grandparents is one of them openly criticizing my mother, in front of her and all of us. In fact, when my family moved from New Jersey to Iowa, our last visit with my dad's parents (who live in New York City) was very bitter. My grandmother hugged me before I left and said that she hoped that someday I would walk out on my parents and betray them as much as they had done to my grandparents.
We saw my maternal grandparents more frequently, but my memories are not much more positive. Before and during every visit, my mother would threaten us kids not to embarrass her or indicate in any way that we were less than perfect children. Being 5 kids of Greek-Italian-Irish heritage, this was essentially impossible. I grew up believing that my dad's parents hated my mom, and my mom's parents thought little of us, all because no one was "good enough" to please the other.
This is my spiritual heritage, and it presents an authoritarian god. A god who disapproves of wrong actions to the point of condemnation. A god who should be feared and obeyed, at all costs. If this is what God is like, then it is no surprise that the adults in my family were so unhappy and so angry all the time. And it explains why, even at a very young age, I had serious doubts that this was a God worth following.